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Monday, November 17, 1997 Published at 19:41 GMT


Coastguard stations to close

Around Britain's coastline, coastguard deals with about 1,000 incidents a month.

Four coastguard stations in Britain are to be closed over the next five years. Two are in Scotland, one in Liverpool and one on the Tyne.

The Transport Minister Glenda Jackson, warned there will be job cuts. But she said the Government was committed to maintaining the best search and rescue service in the world.

Coastguard union leaders have already reacted with "horror" to the announcement and accused the Government of putting lives at risk.

In addition to the four closures, the stations at Lee-on-Solent and Portland are to be merged to create a new centre, cutting the total number of stations from 21 to 16.

[ image: Glenda Jackson - equipping the coast gurad for the next century]
Glenda Jackson - equipping the coast gurad for the next century
The Government hopes to avoid compulsory redundancies through voluntary retirement and natural wastage. Ms Jackson said, "There will be no reduction in coastguard cover for dealing with emergencies."

"These are the co-ordinating centres that we are talking about, the people who are actually on our coastline, the people who actually go out to rescue individuals and ships who are distress will not in any way change. What they will have in the background is infinitely more modern technological system that can assist them in saving life at sea."

The move comes at a time when increasing number of freight and leisure users are on Britain's sea lanes and the number of rescues under taken by the coastguard has steadily risen over the last ten years.

Fears have been raised by members of the communities affected by the closures that remote technology, however good, can not replace experienced staff with expert local knowledge.

[ image: New technology no substitute for local knowledge]
New technology no substitute for local knowledge
Councillor Jim Sinclair of the Orkney Islands Council said: "Local knowledge is absolutely imperative we feel, there is a whole network of auxiliary stations across the Islands which rely on the local station for information and direction and we feel that this penny pinching attitude is nothing short of reckless."

The Chief Coastguard, John Astbury, denied that lives would be put at risk by the closures. As the service is recruiting nearly 200 Coastguard Watch Assistants, there will be more coastguards in uniform at the end of the five year strategy than there were last year, he said.

Asked about the union's angry response, he said: "That's a natural reaction. But it's basically untrue. Under new digital communications technology, the methods we have to co-ordinate incidents will be much improved. The situation on the ground will not change, so it's difficult to see how lives will be at risk. Things will improve, not get worse."

Around Britain's 4,500 of coastline, the coastguard deals with about 1,000 incidents a month.

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